Christmas is a time of excess when people tend to indulge, pouring that extra drink, eating that extra slice of turkey. It has been calculated that your average Christmas reveler puts on a stone during the holidays, making it harvest time for the Fitness clubs.
However, it’s not something that we usually associate with professional footballers. Although it appears that’s just the situation Fiorentina striker Adrian Mutu found himself in over the holiday period. The Romania international was last week found to have twice tested positive for sibutramine, a banned substance that retards hunger.
The 31-year-old who had intimated that he was keen to sign a new contract with the Viola amid interest from Manchester City, Sevilla and Zenit St. Petersburg, has been provisionally suspended, but risks a ban of between three months and eight years if found guilty.
It wasn’t long before some people tried to make capital out of the situation. Lazio President Claudio Lotito called for a re-play of the Coppa Italia Quarter-Final in which Mutu scored twice and made an assist for Fiorentina, as they knocked out the holders in a 3-2 victory on January 20. Having already failed a drugs test after a match against Bari in Serie A 10 days before – a game in which he also scored – Mutu tested positive again.
The knee jerk reaction was to recall the events of 2004 when Chelsea sacked Mutu after WADA banned him for seven months following a positive test for cocaine, an incident that once put before FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber resulted in him being ordered to pay €17,173,990 for breach of contract. A Swiss Federal Court’s decision to delay payment of that compensation in October 2009 was met with a degree of public sympathy.
Fiorentina appear to have learned from that experience. Instead of washing their hands of the player, they have decided to stand by Mutu and that is to their immense credit. Andrea Della Valle, the club’s owner, said: “It’s terrible news and the lad is distraught. He has understood how naïve he was, because that’s exactly what his situation is, he was just naïve. He has given us so much over the years and now we must repay him with our faith. I am certain he was in good faith.”
Mutu’s mother, Rodica, has revealed that she gave him some slimming pills from Romania on December 30. La Gazzetta dello Sport understands Mutu started taking them on January 6 after he read the contents on the back of the pack, which read: forest fruits, kiwi, coconut and natural extracts. There was apparently no mention of sibutramine, which was taken off the shelves in Italy on January 22 after tests showed it increased the likelihood of strokes and heart problems.
Mutu has sent the diet pills to the Italian Olympic Committee [CONI] as evidence in his defence. Il Corriere della Sera also reports that he has declined the opportunity to have his samples tested again, which should ensure his case is viewed more leniently.
In the meantime, Fiorentina have already replaced him, causing quite a stir as the January transfer window draws to a close. “Going on the market to find someone of Mutu’s worth now is tough, we’d need a magic wand,” Della Valle said on Saturday. Luckily, he had one in Pantaleo Corvino, the club’s director of sport.
Renowned for bringing the likes of Valeri Bojinov, Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic to Italy, Corvino only increased his reputation last summer when he sold Felipe Melo to Juventus for €18m barely nine months after picking him up from Almeria for a third of that price. If anyone could do a deal in time, he was the man.
A matter of hours after Mutu’s first positive test hit the headlines on Thursday, Corvino made some of his own. Fiorentina were in talks with Sampdoria about bringing Antonio Cassano to the Artemio Franchi on loan. The Blucerchiati initially dismissed the offer, but when Gigi Delneri dropped him for the second straight week for ‘technical reasons’, the deal was on.
Saturday’s sport section of Il Corriere della Sera led with the headline ‘Cassano wears purple’, citing an agreement with Sampdoria, the player and his agent. “From one excess to another,” wrote one columnist, perhaps referring to claims in Cassano’s biography that after a sex-filled night in Madrid he would get a waiter from the hotel in which he was staying to bring him three or four pastries.
And yet, just as an official announcement looked set to appear on the horizon, Cassano pulled the plug. “I am staying at Sampdoria. I am doing this for President Riccardo Garrone, for ‘my’ people, my team-mates and above all for me. I am staying even if I cannot deny that for a while I saw myself away from all this and what in the last three years has changed my life,” he revealed.
“On Saturday I was given the chance to join Fiorentina. It’s a great club and a wonderful squad that asked me to be a part of their ambitious project until June and also to play in the Champions League. I cannot deny that I considered it, as my prospect of playing at Samp, according to the latest comments from Delneri, have been greatly reduced.”
Having already been knocked back in attempts to land Julio Baptista from Roma and Tommaso Rocchi from Lazio, Corvino didn’t despair. On Sunday he announced Fiorentina had signed Keirrison, the 21-year-old Brazilian striker, from Barcelona on a two-year loan deal with an option to buy him outright for £12m. The former Palmeiras youngster only joined the Champions League holders in the summer to great fanfare after scoring 26 goals in his last two seasons in Brazil.
At the time, Pep Guardiola said: “He is very young. He has very good qualities. The club has decided to sign him, but in principle he will go out on loan. I am not counting on him this season.” It now looks as though Pep won’t be counting on him at all. The question is, will Keirrison come back to haunt him in the Champions League this season? Fiorentina will first have to overcome Bayern Munich later this month for that to happen.
- Alberto Zaccheroni’s reign as Juventus manager started with a 1-1 draw against former club Lazio. The 56-year-old, who, incidentally, is only the third person to have coached all three of Italy’s big clubs, didn’t propose the 4-3-3 on which he made his name with Milan and Udinese. Instead, he stuck with a 4-3-1-2 formation that did little to convince anyone that things are about to get any better in Turin. Juventus fans should bear in mind that, while Zac won the Scudetto in 1999, he hasn’t coached since 2006 when Torino fired him after he got just a point from his last eight games.
- Roma’s 2-1 victory over lowly Siena extends their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitions. Claudio Ranieri’s side were without Franceso Totti, Mirko Vucinic and Luca Toni, but had Fulham bound Stefano Okaka to thank for the three points. Roma are now joint second in Serie A, level on points with Milan who drew at home to Livorno, making it three games without a win for Leonardo’s Rossoneri.
- Bari’s Brazilian striker Paulo Barreto scored for the eighth game in a row against Palermo. The 24-year-old who is on loan from Udinese looks set to earn a big move in the summer with Roma heading a queue of clubs interested in his signature. Having scored against Juventus, Fiorentina and Inter, Barreto is certainly a man for the big occasion and could be a dark horse for Brazil’s World Cup squad. Watch this space.
- Parma saw their match against Inter called off due to adverse weather conditions, robbing Hernan Crespo of the chance to make his second debut for the Gialloblu. The 34-year-old Argentinian re-joined Parma a decade after leaving the Ennio Tardini for then money bags Lazio, who paid a world record £35m for him in 2000. Crespo had found playing time hard to come by at Genoa who negotiated a three party deal this week. The Rossoblu agreed to let Crespo go to Parma if they in turn sent Nicola Amoruso to Atalanta, allowing them to get Robert Acquafresca back from his loan in Bergamo… Still with me?